If your jaw makes a clicking sound every now and then and causes a huge discomfort and pain, then it could be a TMJ disorder or Temporomandibular Dysfunction (TMD).
TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint, the joint acts as a hinge between the jaw and the skull. Your mandible or lower jaw is connected to your skull at the temporal bones. TMJ is responsible for the movement of your jaw and your ability to chew food or talk.
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
Falling under the umbrella term TMD are the symptoms like inflamed jaw muscle or aches, problems in chewing, and others. The pain radiates from the jaw towards the neck, ears or face. Sometimes, the severity of the symptoms may lead to upper back problems.
Some patients even experience intense pain while talking or even yawning. Since the joint is out of place, there will be immense difficulty and deviations while moving the jaw up and down and side to side. While clicking or popping sounds in the joint might not be very serious, combined with jaw pain, the daily life of the patients could become limited. (1)
Causes of TMJ Disorders
TMJ disorders happen when this joint moves out of its original position. This usually occurs as a result of whiplash or injuries to the face, but there are also other factors that can affect its functioning. Any activity you perform that requires you to put undue pressure on the TMJ can result in related disorders. (2)
- The reason some people are more prone to face these symptoms is that they grind their teeth, known as bruxism, or clench their jaw. Usually, people who are stressed out or in bad life situations tend to bite their nails and lips. Such excessive use of the jaw muscles causes microtrauma of the joint, ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues surrounding the joint. (3)
- Other medical causes, as mentioned above, could be trauma to the face or jaw, injuries or major dental work. Arthritis or the disc movement of the ball and socket of the Temporomandibular joint also can lead to these disorders.
- Current jobs and work environments are such that people need to stay seated for a major part of the day. Straining your neck muscles while using mobile phones place tremendous pressure on your neck and spine. Rounded shoulders affect the position of the cervical spine, musculature and the mandible.
Getting Relief from TMJ Disorders
However bad your condition gets, you can always try to improve it by making some changes in your lifestyle.
Improve Your Posture
Rounding your shoulders and bending your head forward, push the jaw muscles and bones into the sockets. This creates muscle imbalances, joint misalignment and causes joint compression. Always sit up tall, position your shoulders and neck in the correct form. Use proper lumbar support while driving or working at your desk. (4)
Get Rid of Stress and Anxiety
Hectic work schedules might leave with insufficient sleep, which causes stress. A good night’s rest, mid work breaks, and physical exercise go a long way in maintaining good health. A few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing and yoga every day help reduce your stress and anxiety.
Change Your Oral habits
This also refers to your teeth positioning; try to keep your teeth apart and unclenched, to help reduce the stress on your jaw. At the same time, do not indulge in excessive mouth opening. You should not open your mouth more than three finger widths. Instead of chewing on gum, try to suck on lozenges, mints or candy. Wear a mouth-guard to bed to avoid grinding your teeth.
Other than the above, simple remedies like eating softer foods and avoiding foods like nuts, steak, and taking only smaller bites can soothe the aching jaw joint and reduce discomfort. You can also apply moist heat and cold packs alternately to your jaw and temple and perform simple stretching exercises.
TMJ disorders sometimes might not be major issues themselves, but indications of other underlying problems. Accidents or injuries damage the connective jaw tissue and shift the head slightly from its original centered position, causing uneven pressure. This can be addressed with upper cervical corrective procedures.